LAUNDRY LIFE – September 2007

By Judy Garrison

Some people do their laundry at home. They synchronize the chore of washing and drying with their other domestic rituals, thereby losing no precious free time. I, on the other hand, have to designate a day or part of a day each week to travel miles away, sometimes when it’s hot and steamy and I might prefer to be swimming or bicycling or simply reading a good book in a hammock. Instead, I am competing for space and laundry carts with people with whom I often do not share a language. (The whys and wherefores of my situation will not be explored on these pages; yes, there was a time when I had my own laundry room and enjoyed hanging the daily wash on a line to sun- dry.) But, think again: those with the convenient and stylishly accoutered laundry room are missing all sorts of adventures and interactions out of their normal routine, and can therefore legitimately be deemed culturally deprived.

I have mixed with the Hasidic community and the Mexican community in Margaretville, the college crowd in Delhi, and bumped shoulders with all nature of lost and fleeting acquaintances and plain old familiar faces with whom—without the serendipitous encounters foisted upon me while loading soiled linens—I might never have had a meaningful exchange. I really feel for the poverty of the social interactions of those complacently loading and folding in the private sanctuaries of their lonely laundry rooms, hanging wash in isolation on backyard lines.

For those similarly without at-home facilities, or those itching for the casual and accidental collisions that sprinkle spice on everyday life, I hereby offer a brief summary of Laundromats, near and far, and their various pros and cons:

Margaretville: While your load is churning at Soap and Suds you can dash off to grocery shop at the A&P (and visit the loo on the second floor—no such facilities in this very basic Laundromat), visit Now & Then to borrow a DVD, catch up on your photo-printing and prescription filling at CVS, not to mention catching lunch or pleasure shopping in town. You may find yourself exchanging news with campers, learning tips on folding contoured sheets from the proudly accomplished or getting a Spanish tutorial. I once gave (solicited) dating advice to a lonesome single guy. I’m less familiar with Railway Laundry in Arkville, but it puts you within easy reach of some very good pizza and interesting antique stores.

Delhi: The First Choice Laundromat at the Price Chopper Mall has been recently upgraded and is quite spiffy, though you now have to actually pay full price for all the machines! I have run into friends coming in to fetch their dry cleaning and learned that there are people I know who appear to drop the equivalent of my weekly wages on dry cleaning bills. The lavatory, which always required permission, appears to be more or less permanently out of order, but Price Chopper is near, and Chinese take-out is next door. And if you are short of time they will do the wash for you (and fold better than I ever would) for $1 per pound.

The uptown Delhi laundry is lower key and rather relaxing. They carry home décor and gossipy magazines, which are quite diverting. You could have a walk-in haircut at the salon next door if you pick the right day. And if you enjoy walking you can stroll downtown and pop in and out of the wonderful new book store, Steinway, Paint & Paper, Dubbens, catch a bite to eat at a café.

Oneonta: First Choice Laundromat and Cleaners has some real upsides. The dryers actually tell you how many minutes are remaining. There’s a TV tuned into either MTV or the (!) soaps (a real adventure in popular culture to those without TV’s such as myself), there are video games and a snack food vending machine for the pleasure of their patrons. Also a perennially unlocked washroom! Moreover, if you have dry cleaning or require the alterations of a tailor, these services are available in the adjoining section. Next door is an al fresco Italian bistro, and Main Street, Oneonta is a short walk away. The stock of catalogs (Coach and Williams-Sonoma among others) and magazines on my last visit were quite sophisticated, mitigating my usual sensation of slipping helplessly into the underclass.

Kingston: Recently, pairing an important mission to a typewriter repair store on Broadway in Kingston with wash day, we discovered “The Big Bubble”, easily the blue ribbon winner of “Laundromats I have Known.” This huge shimmery establishment may be the norm in Tokyo or Kuala Lumpur—it had that beyond-modern ambiance–but I, an habitué, if I may say so, had never encountered a facility this huge and new and

chromey, boasting 6 levels of sizes (the rows of machines were labeled by poundage capacity, up to 60 lbs.), and the issuance of personal electronic cards, good for machines, the purchase of soaps, and even entry into the sleek wash rooms. No jingling of coins here, no awkward piles of spilling quarters. Air conditioning was cool and there were animated videos on multiple screens. Next door one can wash down a burrito with a cold one at a well-recommended Mexican restaurant.

The biggest benefit to me of returning to the public laundry late in life has to do with keeping humble. I’m not better than anyone if this is where I bring my underwear. Yes, some of the patrons I rub shoulders with may not have high educational levels, and a goodly portion of them could be classified as developmentally disabled. But no one is complaining; people tend to be methodical and neat. (I probably drop more errant socks on the soupy floor than most). And the cheerfulness and social ease many demonstrate is a marvel (compared especially to my testy and anti-social demeanor). People strike up acquaintanceship with total strangers and talk non-stop for easily a half hour at a time, constructing seamless conversation based on the merest of subject matter.

Yes, I have visited laundromats elsewhere—I was virtually captive in Spuds Suds in Sidney for two hours during a deluge. Walton’s is more than adequate and provides a restroom.

Still, the names lure me on. Here I come, schlepping my piled-high baskets, my giant plastic detergent container, my Oxy-Clean to fight those stains, my dryer sheets. There are others yet to try: Suds R Us, Splish Splash, Spin City, maybe even the modestly named Tiny Bubbles.~